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Women of the Wall

Posted on by Michelle

If I were to describe the following scene, “ A group of men with hate in their eyes, and spit flying out of their mouths as they shouted hateful things against a group a Jews, what’s the first image that pops into your head?

 

As the Granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I grew up hearing stories that typically included scenes like this from Nazi occupied Poland. To seek refuge, my Grandparents immigrated to Israel after the Holocaust seeking safety and the freedom to live openly as a Jew, without fear or persecution. For them Israel was a beacon of light after much darkness.

Lifting our voices in prayer and song

But the scene I describe did not take place in Poland 1939, it took place this morning in one of the most holy places for Jews – in Israel, at the Kotel. The angry men shouting, were a group of Ultra orthodox Jews who are enraged by the idea and practice of women reading Torah aloud, singing praises to G-d and wearing a prayer shawl while doing so.

 

This is not the Israel my family helped fight for. And it’s probably not the Israel your family worked so hard to create, certainly not the one that Gold Meir intended as she collected one dollar at a time to help fund the state’s Independence.

Golda addresses Israel

As I watched the tzitzit (prayer fringes) on the Haredim flying all around as they jumped up and down, shouting at the top of their lungs, “Get out, Nazis”…

.: hello irony:.

I wondered if anyone of them stopped to think for a second, about what those fringes of their tzittzit actually mean:

לט  וְהָיָה לָכֶם, לְצִיצִת, וּרְאִיתֶם אֹתוֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת-כָּל-מִצְו‍ֹת יְהוָה, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם; וְלֹא-תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם, וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר-אַתֶּם זֹנִים, אַחֲרֵיהֶם. 39 And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go astray;

 

Women leading women in prayer and song

This morning, I witnessed a group of people who like to dress the part of being a holy people and yet none of their actions were out of consideration of G-d’s commandments. I would argue, it’s the complete opposite. And besides,  there is no halakhic rule against women wearing a tallit.

This morning, I witnessed an enraged group of people who acted out of hatred and disgust. Men and young boys shouted and booed out our prayers at an attempt to drown our voices, as if we were saying the name “Haman” as opposed to G-d.

An egg flys by a girl becoming a Bat Mitzvah

While these men were so focused on throwing eggs and water balloons aimed at people they deemed ‘evil’, I can’t help but wonder as the egg left the unknown thrower’s hand – if that person even for a split second, had the thought bubble of, ‘Is throwing this egg at a fellow Jew and shouting hateful things what G-d wants of me to make this world a better place?” the kind of question I tend to imagine a G-d fearing, religious person might ponder.

The State of Israel was meant to be established as a place for all Jews to feel safe, to call it home and to have the luxury of living Jewishly without living in fear.

A Splattered Egg at our feet

This morning, as I davened Shacharit, an egg flew inches past my head and splattered at my feet.
This morning, I did not feel that I could live and pray openly as a Jew in Israel without fear or persecution.

Rachel holds up the egg

This morning, I felt that we all were being prosecuted for being women who were openly praying and singing.

The toughest part about all this, is that it wasn’t coming from Nazis, or terrorists..it was coming from Jews who lived in Israel.

 

 

Processing

I watched how a young girl next to me processed this scene –of a Jew’s hatred against the other in the name of not wanting us to be singing or praying. She said, “it’s just so silly”. This child had more wisdom in her than any one of those egg-throwing yeshiva bochers.

With the soundtrack of hatred and aggression pouring out of the Haredim, I looked to the hundreds of young orthodox women who were literally bussed in like a field trip, missing school to block our entryway to the Western Wall.  I looked to the other side of the barricade to try to get an understanding of what they were experiencing.

looking on with curiosity

These young women looked so bewildered. Here they were, being told that this was so important, that they miss out on their own education to protest the, “Women of the Wall”.  As I linked eyes with a few of them, it became very clear to me very quickly that a lot of these women were not  looking at us in the same way as their male counterparts and a part of me wonders how many of them were curious about us as opposed to hating us.

young girl prays at the Kotel

Today, there may very well be young ultra orthodox men and women who may be curious about us, but feel too afraid to raise their voice let alone consciousness that could lead them to disobey what their community leaders have commanded them to do or believe. But perhaps tomorrow, that can change.

 

This is what it looks like

The secret that the Haredim don’t know – is that the more people they ask to join in ‘protest’ us, the more opportunity for the masses to witness what it looks, sounds and feels like when a group of women lift their voice in song and prayer – it is beautiful, peaceful and positively charged.

As we sang a closing song of Hatikva, a song dedicated to this land of hope, I held to the hope that this movement inspires anyone who loves Israel to jump in and take a stand on what the future of Israel’s relationship to religion should be.

I can tell you first hand that this issue is not limited to that of prayer or public singing.

Earlier this week on my bus ride to Tsfat, I experienced religious men refusing to let us women sit next to them by blocking off seats, creating a segregated (public) bus of religious men sitting in the front of the bus, while women sat in the back and young girls sitting on the floor, while there were still open seats next to the religious men. I was shocked and enraged, but particularly at the lack of response to fight this discrimination.

Rather than moving backwards in the bus of history, let this be an opportunity for people all over the world to rise up and support the concept of Israel as a homeland consistent with the original intention of Israel’s Declaration of Independence:

“it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants “ irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture;”

I would encourage all who care about Israel’s future to act now so that Israel can be a place where a girl can become a Bat-Mitzvah at the Kotel, and can read from the Torah wrapped in a prayer shawl, able to focus solely on that once-in-a-lifetime holy moment without the distraction from shouts of hatred, or fears of an attack.  Act now, so we can have an Israel where women can travel to Tsfat without being harassed and bullied into sitting in the back of a public bus.

Ultimately, if we want Israel to be a place where people can lead Jewish lives with the freedom to choose what that means for them as opposed to being imposed by others, we must speak up and take action now.

For more information,  visit http://womenofthewall.org.il/Women of the Wall and learn how you can help.  The acronym says it all – Wow.

all photos © 2013 Michelle Citrin

 

 


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